As you can probably tell reader (do tell the other reader!), I’m back from my great world tour of Shetland.
First of all, a word of caution regarding the ferry from Aberdeen. Apparently, as of the 1st May, photo id is required at check-in. I wish this was mentioned on the Northlink Ferries website when I made the booking (in July!!!), because I didn’t have any on me!
If this is law or company policy I don’t know. But the way I see it is, what’s the most common form of personal ID with a photo on? Answer, a passport! I should not need a passport to travel around my own country. Not all of us are terrorists or drug dealers.
Not knowing of this slight detail that was missing on their website, and more importantly the confirmation e-mail, I made my feelings on this issue well known to the chap at check-in. No-one messes with me, and so they let me on the ferry.
Sunday 12th October.
Not the best night’s sleep out at sea, but still better than I can ever do on long-distance flights. After docking at Lerwick I paid one of first of many visits to Loch of Clickimin and the Helendale area of Lerwick. A leafy suburb in Shetland terms, although nowhere near as leafy as Woking.
A Slavonian Grebe and 3 Goldeneye were on the loch, and migrants at Helendale included Blackcap, Goldcrest and Siskin.
A short drive over to the isle of Trondra was called for next, especially as a King Eider was here a week before. On arrival at a mussel farm in Cliff Sound there was a huge raft of Common Eider, plus three Long-Tailed Duck (two of them were cracking winter-plumaged drakes!), but unfortunately the king had left the building.
Loch of Tingwall had 2 Slavonian Grebes, then at the Kergord plantation there was a Yellow-Browed Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher.
Starting to flag from the lack of sleep at this point, a quick check of Loch of Benston produced 6 Whooper Swans.
By this time I was poised to return to Lerwick to check into my B&B, when a text on my moby mentioned a Red-Breasted Flycatcher at Helendale! Aaagh. Strange how you wake up when that happens! On returning there I did manage a brief view of it in the gloom. Also by now a Long-Tailed Duck and Goosander at Loch of Clickimin.
By the way, I decided to use a B&B and not another form of accommodation in Shetland, a Camping Bod.
No not that one! Although whenever I see these in Shetland, it always reminds me of this memory from childhood. Even now I can still whistle the theme tune. Do you remember Farmer Barleymow, Aunt Flo, PC Copper, and Alberto Frog and his Amazing Animal Band (I wouldn’t say no to a milkshake!)? All narrated by the dulcite tones of John “Sergeant Wilson” Le Mesurier!
Monday 13th October.
Over to the south mainland today, in particular to Toab for the Little Bunting. No sign of that, but a Richard’s Pipit had replaced it. Also a Whitethroat, Wheatear and Brambling. I also met local birder and photographer, Jim Nicolson.
A walk around Sumburgh Head produced 2 Twite and 2 Redwing. 5 Pale-Bellied Brent Geese at Pool of Virkie, plus two Brents and a Pintail at Boddam Voe. I had about finished birding for the day, and was stocking up with drinks at Tescos in Lerwick. Then a text appeared that REALLY got the adrenalin running. Unbelievably, considering the weather conditions, White’s Thrush at Kergord! Wow!!!
As soon as I saw that, and knowing there would be a bit of daylight left I zoomed off in the car and twenty minutes later I arrived. I managed four flight views of the bird. The first three were in the tops of the trees. My thoughts were yes it’s a thrush, not a Blackbird or Redwing, and I’ve seen no Mistle Thrushes here, so I’ve no reason to believe that’s not it. The last view, however, was much closer and lower. You could see the bird’s head and the large white patches on the under-wing.
Absolutely fantastic, not many twitches I go to these days really do make me physically twitch, but this one did! It was one of the big Siberian rarities I was secretly hoping for while I was here, and I’d got one so early into the trip. There were also Sparrowhawk and Merlin overhead during the evening’s entertainment. I also knew where I was returning to in the morning!
Tuesday 14th October.
I just had to return to Kergord, in case I could manage a better view of the White’s Thrush. On arrival I spoke to another local birder and photographer, Hugh Harrop. A group of us had gathered in the plantation. After a while most had dispersed but I stayed put.
The Yellow-Browed Warbler appeared again, then after a while a thrush landed in a conifer tree. A look in the binoculars, and would you believe it, it was the White’s Thrush. What a magnificent bird it is with all the scaly plumage, just wonderful. Its reclusive nature meant that it didn’t stay in the tree for very long, and a lot of birders missed it at that point.
I decided to move on, thinking I wouldn’t get a better view of the White’s Thrush now. News also filtered through of a Shetland mega at Sumburgh Head, a Long-Tailed Tit. It's quite odd to see a mass exodus of birders for a Long-Tailed Tit, but it was only the 4th one recorded on Shetland. It still didn't float my boat.
Back to Loch of Tingwall. There was the Ring-Necked Duck, 2 Scaup and still 2 Slavonian Grebes. Another look at Trondra produced absolutely no Eider at the mussel farm, I couldn’t believe it actually.
I just spent the rest of the afternoon mooching round Lerwick again. Seafield didn’t produce much, apart from a very furtive Robin that got me going for a moment. At Helendale were a Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Grey Wagtail and another Sparrowhawk. Loch of Clickimin produced another Ring-Necked Duck, I assume it must’ve flown here from Loch of Tingwall at some point during the afternoon.
At this point, just when I thought I was running out of birds to see, a text appeared. Pechora Pipit at Isbister! Right at the northern end of the mainland. Unfortunately too late to get over there today, but I’ll be over there tomorrow. Can this place get any better?